Yes, God is Gay-and Straight, and Black, White, and a Flower!

The spate of suicides and deaths of gay and lesbian young people reported in the news recently has broken my heart and the hearts of many.  But these tragic stories are but the tip of the iceberg:

In in “Death of California youth puts focus on rise in antigay bullying,” the Christian Science Monitor wrote:

“In a 2009 survey of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students by Presgraves’ Education Network, 84.6 percent said they were verbally harassed, 40.1 percent physically harassed, and 18.8 percent physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.”

The bullying and the discrimination against gays and lesbians, or those perceived to be gay or lesbian, has got to stop!

Often bullying and discrimination of LGBT people have their roots and justification in ancient religious beliefs and cultural prejudices.  This condemnation is not, however, universal.

What does Buddhism say about homosexuality?

The Buddha himself made no direct pronouncements on homosexuality or homosexual acts. As A.L. De Silva writes in Homosexuality and Theravada Buddhism:

“As homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha’s discourses (more than 20 volumes in the Pali Text Society’s English translation), we can only assume that it is meant to be evaluated in the same way that heterosexuality is. And indeed it seems that this is why it is not specifically mentioned. In the case of the lay man and woman where there is mutual consent, where adultery is not involved and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not be breaking the third Precept. And it is the same when the two people are of the same gender. Likewise promiscuity, license and the disregard for the feelings of others would make a sexual act unskillful whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. All the principles we would use to evaluate a heterosexual relationship we would also use to evaluate a homosexual one.”

This enlightened view is reflected in the teachings of two Theravadan teachers I greatly respect, Ajahn Brahmavamso and Thanissaro Bhikkhu. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu once said, citing the Pali canon:

“When [the Buddha] drew the line between licit and illicit sex, it had nothing to do with sexual tastes or preferences. He seemed more concerned with not violating the legitimate claims that other people might have on your sexual partner.”

What about Mahayana Buddhism? Master Hsing Yun is a Chinese monk who leads the world’s largest Chinese Buddhist association. In his book Buddhism, Pure and Simple he writes:

“Marriage is an institution that reflects the values of the society that supports it. If the people of a society no longer believe that it is important to be married, then there is no reason why they cannot change the institution of marriage. Marriage is a custom. Customs can always be changed. We can find the same core point in this question as we have in others—the ultimate truth of the matter is that individuals can and should decide for themselves what is right. As long as they are not violating others or breaking the laws of the society in which they are living, then they are free to do what they believe is right. It is not for me or anyone else to tell them that they must get married if they want to live together. That is their choice and their choice alone…

The same analysis can be applied to homosexuality. People often ask me what I think about homosexuality. They wonder, is it right, is it wrong? The answer is, it is neither right nor wrong. It is just something that people do. If people are not harming each other, their private lives are their own business; we should be tolerant of them and not reject them…

However, it will still take some time for the world to fully accept homosexuality. All of us must learn to tolerate the behavior of others. Just as we hope to expand our minds to include all of the universe, so we should also seek to expand our minds to include all of the many forms of human behavior.

Tolerance is a form of generosity and it is a form of wisdom. There is nothing anywhere in the Dharma that should ever lead anyone to become intolerant. Our goal as Buddhists is to learn to accept all kinds of people and to help all kinds of people discover the wisdom of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha.”

Thich Nhat Hanh — Looking Deeply into the Deep Roots of Discrimination

In a question and answer session at a retreat at Plum Village, France, my own heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, was asked this question:

Dear Thay, I feel very well and safe here in Plum Village, but there were times in my life when I experienced discrimination, so there is one question which really interests me. What does Buddhism say about homosexuality?

His remarkable reply challenges conventional ways of looking at such issues:

Discrimination is something that many of us know, and there were times when we wanted to cry out for justice. You might be tempted by violent means in order for injustice to be removed. There are very many of us who are seeking non-violent means in order to remove injustice and discrimination imposed on us. Sometimes those discriminating against us act in the name of God, of the truth. We may belong to the third world, or we may belong to a particular race, we may be people of color, we may be gay or lesbian, and we have been discriminated against for thousands of years.

So how to work on it, how to liberate ourselves from the suffering of being a victim of discrimination and oppression? In Christianity it is said that God created everything, including man, and there is a distinction made between the creator and the creature. The creature is something created by God. When I look at a rose, a tulip, or a chrysanthemum, I know, I see, I think, that this flower is a creation of God.

Because I have been practicing as a Buddhist, I know that between the creator and the created there must be some kind of link, otherwise creation would not be possible. So the chrysanthemum can say that God is a flower, and I agree, because there must be the element “flower” in God so that the flower could become a reality. So the flower has the right to say that God is a flower.

The white person has the right to say that God is white, and the black person also has the right to say that God is black. In fact, if you go to Africa, you’ll see that the Virgin Mary is black. If you don’t make the statue of the Virgin Mary black, it does not inspire people. Because to us the black people, “black is beautiful,” so a black person has the right to say that God is black, and in fact I also believe that God is black, but God is not only black, God is also white, God is also a flower.

So when a lesbian thinks of her relationship with God, if she practices deeply, she can find out that God is also a lesbian. Otherwise how could you be there? God is a lesbian, that is what I think, and God is gay also. God is no less. God is a lesbian, but also a gay, a black a white, a chrysanthemum. It is because you don’t understand that, that you discriminate.

When you discriminate against the black or the white, or the flower, or the lesbian, you discriminate against God, which is the basic goodness in you. You create suffering all around you, and you create suffering within yourself, and it is delusion, ignorance, that is the basis of your action, your attitude of discrimination. If the people who are victims of discrimination practice looking deeply, they will say that I share the same wonderful relationship with God, I have no complex. Those who discriminate against me, do so because of their ignorance. “God, please forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

If you reach that kind of insight, you will no longer get angry at that person who discriminates against you, and you might have compassion toward him or her. You will say: “He does not know what he is doing. He is creating a lot of suffering around him and within him. I will try to help him.” So your heart opens like a flower and suffering is no longer there, you have no complex at all, and you turn to be a bodhisattva in helping the people who have been discriminating against you. That is the way I see it, out of my practice of looking deeply, so one day I made the statement that God is a lesbian, and this is my insight.”


I want to end this post with a deeply moving video by Fort Worth City, Texas, Councilman Joel Burns, who reaches out to LGBT teens with a personal story and a message of hope.  I hope you will share this video with those who can be most helped by it.   I also hope that this post and video inspire you to direct action in our schools and  in society in general:

“The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate evil than those who actively commit it”  Albert Einstein


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

3 Responses to “Yes, God is Gay-and Straight, and Black, White, and a Flower!”

  1. I loved this treatment on the subject, especially the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Whether we turn to Buddha or Christ, the message is that we are here to care for and love ourselves and each other. Ultimately, we may come to realize there is no “other” separate from ourselves, and to be intolerant of someone because of their perceived differences is an impediment to the realization of oneness and the happiness of everyone. I am a father of a transgender child, and what I have learned is that everything I loved and honored in my child ( as a daughter) is still there, as I love my child (as a son). My job as a parent to is let my child know he is always loved and respected. This is also my practice as a student of Buddha’s teaching.

    Loving Parent

  2. In my opinion, it’s not wrong as long as the homosexual never make others in troubles. But from what I know in Buddhism, the one who become a homosexual did against the Buddhist precept in their last life, therefore this life they have to stay in a unacceptable society.

    • Hello peaceful! Thank you for your sharing. I know that some Buddhists believe such things as you say, but I there is no mention of homosexuality or rules against homosexuality any place in the Pali Canon, the earliest teachings we have of the Buddha.

      Many, many centuries after the Buddha, scholars and others came up with very elaborate karmic theories about what action in a previous life has some supposed effect or result in the next. But the Buddha said that kamma was so complex, so hard to understand, that only a Buddha could see clearly all the threads and interconnections of cause and effect in one’s life.

      Although Buddhism teaches that Kamma is the chief cause of the inequalities in the world yet it does not teach fatalism or the doctrine of predestination, for it does not hold the view that everything is due to past actions. The law of cause and effect (Kamma) is only one of the twenty-four causes described in Buddhist philosophy.

      Given all of this, who can say or know of a surety that one is a homosexual because one supposedly broke a precept in a previous life? It may just as well be one of the other twenty-four causes, many of which occur in this life. We also know from modern science that there are genetic as well as psychological elements in the development of homosexuality.

      So, speaking for myself, and from my study of Buddhism, I do not see being a homosexual as some sort of fate or punishment. The Buddha’s teaching on kamma is NOT predestination! We should not lay such a heavy burden of judgment and condemnation on our brothers and sisters, because we do not have the wisdom of a Buddha to judge rightfully. Nor should we treat people badly and take away their rights because we have some belief of supposed “sins” in a past life! That is decidedly and most definitely non-Buddhist and unskillful, lacking in both insight and loving-kindness.

      The Buddha said that Kamma is mental volition (in the Anguttara Nikaya) and so it is our intent—in the here and now—that mainly causes us suffering or happiness. The religious teachers of his time had all kinds of karmic beliefs that they used to justify the prejudices and terrible discrimination of the Hindu caste system and other social inequalities in life, saying that a person suffered because he must have done something terrible in a past life. The Buddha rejected all of that, and said that all that really mattered is what we do NOW. He gave us a new understanding of kamma that is not superstitious or based on fatalism and fate.

      A homosexual who lives by the precepts, who lives a good and unselfish life, will reap the kamma of his or her good intentions. If he or she breaks precepts or lives immorally, then from that will come harm. The same for the heterosexual. And if we are unkind, unfair, cruel, and do not treat others fairly and equally, then we receive the full effects of that wrong intent, or kamma. That is the rule unbreakable.

      Instead of judging others by our imaginations and presuppositions about things only a Buddha can know, we need to follow the Noble Eightfold Path and learn the Buddha’s compassion, born of wisdom. This is my understanding of the Buddha’s dharma.

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